Countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are working to strengthen their partnership with China in the tourism sector, which holds significant potential for growth between the two regions.
"China is one of the most critical and important markets for Saudi Arabia, especially to achieve its 2030 vision. It's going to be (one of) the top two source markets," said Alhasan Aldabbagh, president of Asia-Pacific markets at the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Saudi Arabia unveiled its ambitious economic diversification plan, Vision 2030, in 2016 with a focus on tourism. The target is to attract 150 million visitors by 2030 and have tourism contribute to 10 percent of its GDP. Among the total number of visitors, the kingdom aims to attract 3 million visitors from China by 2030.
"We understand the importance (of Chinese tourists). We understand what Chinese travelers are looking for, and we would love to welcome them to experience a true home in Saudi Arabia," Aldabbagh told China Daily.
Noting the high potential for growth, the official said, by 2030, India will be the first market of inbound tourism for Saudi Arabia, followed by China.
According to the tourism authority, more than 4.1 million travelers from the Asia-Pacific region visited Saudi Arabia in the first eight months of this year, a 15 percent jump from the same period in 2019. The country is aiming to welcome at least 7.9 million visitors from the region this year.
Philip Dickinson, vice-president of international markets at Qatar Tourism, said Qatar is investing heavily into promoting itself in China, hoping to take advantage of the tourism boom brought by its hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to increase Chinese tourists' awareness of the country.
"We have 15 priority markets globally and China is one of them, being placed in the 'tier one' group," he said.
Dickinson said tourism authorities of the Middle Eastern country are adopting a "360-degree approach" to attract more foreign travelers from the "tier one" group markets, which cover some 24 countries. The comprehensive strategy aims to reach out to international tourists, both by working with industry players and by increasing the country's exposure directly to individuals.
"We have dedicated representative offices in those markets, and we have a larger percentage of our overall marketing spending on campaigns in those markets as well. We also additionally do tactical campaigns there," Dickinson said.
These campaigns, he added, cover consumer marketing and public relations across different digital and social channels.
Chinese tourists have shown much enthusiasm for traveling to Qatar, particularly after the country became the first in the Middle East to host the soccer World Cup last year.
According to statistics from Qatar Tourism, 67,000 tourists from China visited Qatar in 2019 before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of Chinese travelers to Qatar reached 40,000 over the first eight months of this year.
China announced an expansion to the list of outbound destinations for tour groups in August, covering 78 destinations worldwide including Qatar, which has laid the groundwork for growth of Chinese tourists to the Gulf nation.